Trying to Do Better

Recently, I wrote here about the wonders of the internet. But there’s a downside too, and I had a reminder this week.

Wednesday morning, on my drive into the office, I found a message on the cell phone that had been left the night before. A man who left no number where I could return his call said, “Take my name off your website and quit writing about me. You are ruining my life.” Everytime a prospective employer googled his name, he said, it came up on my website where I had written some slanderous thing about him. “I want it stopped.”

I felt like replying, “How can I be writing about you when I don’t even know who you are?” But without a number, I couldn’t return his call.

Then, I hit the wrong number on the phone. Instead of saving the message, I deleted it. And promptly forgot his name. This was not going well.

Later, I called the phone company to see if there is any way to retrieve a deleted phone message. Not after that transaction has been closed; the message is gone forever.

Thursday morning, I called Marty, my son who is a genius about a lot of things, especially involving the internet. Could he find the article in question? I told him what I remembered about the man’s name.

An hour later, Marty e-mailed. “I found it.” The article had been posted on this website on October 13, 2006. I had referred to a newspaper item in which this guy–no way am I printing his name!–was arrested for molesting his juvenile sister, and the article dealt with a judge lowering his bail so that he walked free. That’s all it was, except that in the comments which followed, some over several months time, I was lambasted by friends of the accused for slandering him. If they had left contact information, I would probably have said, “Take it up with the editor. I was just quoting the paper.”

But still, it’s no big deal to remove his name from that article.

Anyway, we took it off. Marty says it takes Google a week or so to drop the link to our website, but he’ll see if they can speed it up.

A sobering thought: type a guy’s name on your website and the world’s most popular search machine directs everyone there to see what you wrote on him.

Taking gossip to new heights. Taking slander to new lows. The power of the printed word at warp speed.

Okay, change the subject. The most bizarre accident occurred in New Orleans this week.

Tuesday morning around 2 a.m., off-duty NOPD Detective Tommie Felix, was driving on Claiborne Avenue from the direction of St. Bernard Parish toward downtown. And, as we all have done hundreds of times, he drove across the Judge Seeber bridge which spans the Industrial Canal and separates the 9th ward into upper and lower. What he did not know was that the operator of that draw bridge had raised it to allow a ship to pass under it. The lights on the bridge were out and had not been working for some time, so drivers were used to navigating it in the dark. That was bad enough, but worse than that, inexplicably, the gate was not lowered to stop traffic. Drivers were heading up the bridge unaware that the pavement abruptly ended just ahead.

Detective Felix seems to have been the only driver who went over, plunging into the canal where the water is 25 feet deep. It was mid-morning before the Coast Guard found his car. Apparently, he had been unable to get out of his seatbelt. He leaves a wife and five children. His colleagues speak of his dedication and faithfulness. The newspaper reported several close calls he has survived, once from a shootout in 1995 when his life was saved by a bulletproof vest.

Eyewitnesses at the scene report how the bridge operator seemed nonchalant when they hollered that someone had gone off the bridge. “I know,” he said. “I’ve called the police.”

Thursday’s paper reveals that this bridge’s barricade had been out of operation for some time. Motorists who regularly use the bridge say they have complained repeatedly and to no avail about the lack of lighting.

Now, every transportation safety organization you ever heard of is coming out of the woodwork to inspect the bridge. The operator has been suspended with pay while the investigation continues.

Detective Felix’ supervisor, Major Michael Glasser, is quoted as saying, “How do you face a gun so many times, kick in doors so many times on the job, face danger all the time, then drive off a bridge when the gate isn’t down? How perverse is that? It’s like God was sleeping at the wheel on this one.”

It’s certainly true, Maj. Glasser, that someone was asleep at the wheel, but I don’t think we should blame the Almighty. It may turn out to have been the bridge operator, but don’t be surprised if the culprit is some state bureaucracy that has no time for anything as mundane as bridge safety.

Too bad it takes the death of a faithful cop, no doubt a loving husband and attentive father, to get the attention of the authorities.

My son Neil called to say he had time to read all the newspaper today, Thursday, and had something unusual happen while reading the editorial page. Two letters dealt with bicycle safety and the newly painted bike path in the Bywater section of the city. He said, “I was reading the second article and thought, ‘I like the way this guy writes.’ And then I saw why. You wrote it.”

I appreciate that objective testimonial. Here’s the article and the scary thing that occurred two hours after I read it this morning.

“I’d like to say good-bye to a fellow on a bike who created a commotion Sunday afternoon in Harahan. Two lanes of traffic were backed up six cars deep, waiting to turn left onto Hickory Lane, when just as the light changed, this fellow on a 10-speed comes down the line between the cars as though he owned the highway.”

“Motorists blew at him but he gave no evidence that he heard. Then, two blocks laer, he’s holding to the dotted line between the two right-hand lanes–both of which turn right onto Earhart Boulevard–and he goes straight ahead, almost getting hit by a car turning right. Again, horns were blaring.”

“This guy is going to be killed soon, mark it down. The death will devastate the driver of the car and the victim’s family will be angry. They will have no way of knowing he did this himself.”

“Ten minutes later, driving into Bywater, I was pleased to see the new bike lanes alongside Rampart Street. Then, reality set in. I realized no amount of bicycle lanes can compensate for stupidity and ignorance on the part of the rider.”

“When will bike riders learn that they must obey the same laws as motorists?”

Then, a few minutes before 8 a.m., I was driving out of my neighborhood toward Airline Highway. At a 3-way stop, the car in front of me stopped, then went on. I pulled up, stopped, and went on. Suddenly, a man on a bicycle was turning left right in front of me and I had not seen him. He glared at me as though I were the devil himself. I was stunned.

How bizarre would that be, I wondered, if just after writing such a letter to the editor, I was the one who hit and killed or badly injured a guy on a bike.

I wanted so badly to stop the bicyclist and ask, “Did you stop at that stop sign? Did you signal for a left turn?” He may have done both–as I say, I didn’t see the guy at all. But if he did either, he would probably be the first bike rider in the history of Jefferson Parish to do so. I wanted to tell him, “Friend, it’s your job to make sure motorists see you. I have driven through that intersection hundreds of times over the past 14 years and have never seen anyone on a bike there.”

But mostly, what I wanted to say was, “I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.”

3 thoughts on “Trying to Do Better

  1. Kansas motorists are required to; have a valid driver’s license, be tested periodically for re-issuance of that license, display a current license plate on the vehicle, display a current decal on that plate, and carry in the vehicle at all times proof of registration and insurance. None of these requirements apply to bicylists, yet roadside signs combine the international bicycle symbol with a message imploring drivers to “Share The Road”! The previous posting’s comment, “That’s not logical” could apply to this situation! Keep up the good work Joe, and may the Good Lord prevent you from a bicycle/automobile collision!

  2. I know about being labeled for what you write on an internet webpage. Years ago I made a comment on the webpage of the Clarion Ledger about our Mississippi Flag, that I thought it was a symbol of racism to many black residents of Mississippi. For years, when you Googled my name that’s what came up. Made a lot of enemies with that comment. I still believe it, and I’m not retracting it. I’m sure there are people who disagree, but that is why we celebrated Memorial Day yesterday, to recognize those that died to protect our right to say pretty much what we want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with rights of others. In my opinion, stating facts about a child molester that is freed, as recorded in the newspaper would not fall into this category. All of us have things we’ve done that we’re not proud of and that make the light of day. Didn’t I read somewhere about the sins we try to hide will be shouted from the mountaintops?

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